Every January the aviation industry gets the star treatment, with the Living Legends of Aviation Awards, a black tie gala held in Beverly Hills, in the same hotel ballroom where the Golden Globes are held.
During the annual awards ceremony — now in its 16th year — legends in the aviation field honor those selected to join their ranks.
The “Living Legends of Aviation” is a select group of people from around the world, currently numbering 111 men and women of extraordinary accomplishment and renown in the aviation arena. Among the defining criteria used in identifying “Living Legends” are entrepreneurs, innovators, industry leaders, record breakers, astronauts, pilots who have become celebrities, and celebrities who have become pilots.
As the initial group of legends evolved, these extraordinary people nominate others to join them, and the list has gradually grown. And as legends take their final flights west, new inductees are selected by their fellow legends to replace them.
A private, informal gathering of legends was held the night before the awards ceremony, hosted by Clay Lacy, Bruce McCaw and Joe Clark at Clay Lacy Aviation at Van Nuys Airport (VNY). Set with enticing displays of food, surrounded by classic aircraft outside, it was a cozy intimate setting and a chance for the legends to reconnect.
The awards event is an excellent opportunity to meet the who’s who of aviation, as well as learn how these folks built their lives around aviation, often starting as childhood dreams. Emcee duties were split between Danny Clisham and NBC’s Tom Costello, aided by host John Travolta.
Living Legends of Aviation Inductees for 2019
- Col. Joe Kittinger, a Vietnam fighter pilot best known for participating in various Air Force high-altitude balloon flight projects and skydiving from an altitude of 19 miles. His records for highest parachute jump and fastest velocity stood for 52 years, until they were broken in 2012 by fellow legend Felix Baumgartner.
- Kenny G, Grammy-award winning musician and a pilot for more than 30 years who owns a deHavilland Beaver.
- Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder, as well as the founder of Blue Origin aerospace company in 2000, who hopes to achieve manned spaceflight this year.
- Rick Fiddler, vice president of aviation for Amway Corp. overseeing a fleet of 15 aircraft.
- Kenn Ricci, an aviation entrepreneur and founder of Corporate Wings and Flight Options.
- John Leahy, Chief Operating Officer-Customers at Airbus.
- Brian Barents, previously a senior vice president with Cessna and CEO of Learjet, now CEO of Aerion Corp., which is developing a supersonic business jet.
Kenny G delivered one of the more memorable acceptance speeches, receiving his award just after Kittinger accepted his Legend medal.
“What am I doing here? I’m just a guy with a Beaver and a saxophone,” Kenny G joked, noting Kittinger’s record-setting jump from more than 100,000 feet in 1960.
He added that having a Grammy doesn’t offer any help whatsoever when executing a tricky approach through a marine layer. A few other hilarious comments he made aren’t suitable for print, however.
Several awards were also presented during the evening, including:
- The Legends Technology Award to Bertrand Piccard, who circled the globe in a balloon and recently in the Solar Impulse aircraft.
- The Changing Lives With Aviation Award to Dick DeVos, who founded the West Michigan Aviation Academy charter school, which has helped more than 50 students earn their private pilot’s certificates.
- The Aviation Inspiration and Patriotism Award to Jim Payne, pilot for the Perlan 2 Glider Project, an aircraft that flies to 90,000′ to collect data about the Earth’s atmosphere and ozone layer.
Harrison Ford presented his eponymous Harrison Ford Aviation Legacy Award to airshow star Sean Tucker, who provided the quote of the night: “You’re not relevant unless you’re giving back.”
Sean has been providing STEM-based education to at-risk kids at the Bob Hoover Academy in Salinas, California.
Among the milestones noted during the program was the inaugural Living Legends of Aviation–Europe awards show, which was held in Austria in July 2018. A slate of European legends were inducted, with other awards bestowed. There is a 2019 Europe event planned for this July and it could become a regular companion event to the main Beverly Hills gala, according to officials.
The Legends of Aviation Awards raises funds for the Kiddie Hawk Air Academy, a non-profit organization that introduces children to aviation. Kiddie Hawk follows the students as they progress, making scholarships available as Kiddie Hawk pilots enter actual flight training.